Having declared their independence, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now trying to establish their footballing identities.
Tania Anri may have thought his professional football career was taking off when he signed for Russian club Zhemchuzhina-Sochi in 2003, but the dream quickly ended. Besieged by financial problems, the Russian second division side collapsed into bankruptcy and he returned to the amateur league in Abkhazia, which had been set up after the rebel enclave broke from Georgia in 1994.
Anri played for a side called Nart – who are based in the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi – and, after being voted Abkhazia’s player of the year in 2008, he was offered a second chance to play abroad once more – this time for Yenicami Agdelen in the politically unrecognised state of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
“My dream is to play in the Premier League in Britain, but to start with I come to play in Northern Cyprus,” said Anri on arriving. Yet after just 10 games he returned to Abkhazia.
Having turned down offers from clubs in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, Anri is back with Nart once more – but this year he will play in the Russian league as Nart are all set to be re-named Dynamo Sukhum and hope to join the Russian system.
The original Dinamo Sukhumi played in the lower leagues of the Soviet system but were dissolved when Georgia declared independence from Russia in 1991.
But while Abkhazia’s own split from Georgia has so far been peaceful, the secession of another Georgian enclave, South Ossetia, in 1990, led to two wars.
In 1993, Tskhovrebov Vladislav Arsenovich set up a football association in South Ossetia but the breakaway state’s most senior side had bigger ambitions.
Spartak Tskhinvali had played in the Georgian league and won the Georgian Cup in 1987, but that ended with South Ossetia’s independence and the club joined the league in the neighbouring Russian republic of North Ossetia-Alania.
A second conflict over South Ossetia in 2008 made staying alive rather than playing football a priority, but a league was played in 2009 with a Spartak Tskhinval XI pipping Dzau and Znaur to the title.
But while Tskhinvali are unlikely to give up playing in North Ossetia-Alania, Arsenovich, who remains chairman of the South Ossetian FA, is keen to develop the game.
Around 300 young players aged from seven to 17 train at an academy in South Ossetia and a 6,000-seat stadium, built to FIFA standards, is expected to be completed by 2011.
However, it is unlikely that there will be any international visitors. While only Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela accept the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, FIFA sanctions would quickly be imposed should any of the trio attempt to uphold this recognition and take it into the sporting ties.